Last spring, the person who delivers mail to John Butner’s Northmoor home saw a green mail truck in his driveway and was so impressed that she put a personal note in his mailbox.
“I called her and she said, ‘A mailman at the post office was a Vietnam vet and he died,’” Butner said. “She wanted to know if I would use the mail truck in his funeral procession, so I did.”
Butner’s green 1951 1-ton Dodge mail truck is definitely eye-catching. Looking at it now, it is hard to imagine that three years ago it was headed for the crusher.
Butner went to an estate sale and saw it. There were 30 or so vehicles there, and someone at the sale was buying them so he could crush them. Butner didn’t want that to happen to the mail truck, so he bought it for $350.
“It had sat there so long that the dirt was set down clear to the axle,” Butner said. “I couldn’t use the wheels that were on it. They were all rusted out.
“I went there with my rollback (tow truck) to get it and I couldn’t get it out of the dirt. I had to get a big rollback to drag it out of the dirt for me.”
Butner, 68, never doubted he could get the truck back on the road. He enjoys doing the bodywork, and his friend, George Capito, 81, handles the engine and electrical work. They have restored other cars together.
But they both admitted this one was a challenge. Some of their friends thought a few other things when they looked at the early condition of the mail truck.
“A lot of people doubted him and thought he was some kind of nut for doing it,” Capito said.
The mail truck actually sat in Butner’s garage for a year before he started on it.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Butner said. “It is unusual. Who is going to mess with a mail truck?”
Part of the thrill, Butner said, was the hunt for parts.
“I like looking for parts and to taking a piece of (junk) and making something out of it and have people say, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Butner said.
He went to the American Truck Historical Society and got pictures of this type of mail truck so he would know how it was supposed to look.
“I had to make both doors for it and replace the sides. I had to replace the front end because it was all rusted away. The engine was locked up in it. I took the front end off to get the motor out. We cut the pistons out of it. We had to cut the timing chain.”
Capito added that it took an entire day just to get the engine out of the mail truck.
“We had to take an engine out of a Dodge pickup and put it in there,” Capito said. “We did all the brakes and rewiring. We fixed all the gauges. We took out all the lights and redid them.”
After a year and half of working on it, the mail truck was finally ready in the fall of 2014.
“If you are a mechanic, you hear that engine run … it is a good feeling,” Capito said.
This year Butner has taken the mail truck to several car shows like the North Kansas City Cruise and the Riverside Truck Show. His truck has earned a first-place trophy.
“You go to car shows and see ’57 Chevys, Camaros and Mustangs, but you don’t see this,” Butner said.
Because many people don’t see this type of mail truck, Butner gets thumbs up whenever he drives it.
“It doesn’t drive very fast,” Butner said. “It runs 40 to 45 miles per hour (with) a little trail of smoke. But it is a neat feeling driving it.”
Do you have a car, truck or motorcycle or other vehicle you would like see featured in Make It Yours? If you do, email your idea to David Boyce at Drive@kcstar.com